Vostok spacecraft

Designed by Mikhail Tikhonravov's "kindergarten" team, the first manned spacecraft combined a spherical manned Descent Module with an unmanned Instrument Module and retrorocket unit. Unmanned versions were flown under cover of Sputnik launches 4 onwards (sometimes known as korabl sputniks, from the Russian for "ship"), and the manned spacecraft was launched half-a-dozen times. Although plans for later manned flights were scrapped, unmanned Vostok variants carrying reconnaissance cameras and other experiments continued to fly for three decades.

payload fairing

Ussr Locomotive Engines

THE VOSTOK ROCKET

The lower stages of the Vostok rocket were identical to those of the reliable R-7 Semyorka rocket, with four engine blocks powered by an RD-107 engine, surrounding a centrol core powered by the RD-108. Here, one of the side blocks is being attached to the core during assembly. Both engines were powered by kerosene and liquid oxygen.

RD-107 ENGINE

The RD-107 engine, developed by Valentin Glushko, used a turbopump to feed combustion chambers similor to those on the V-2. Four such chambers fed the four main rocket nozzles, while two gimballed vernier engines on the side helped steer the rocket.

107 Engine Side

third I stage core stage payload fairing core stage

third I stage

BLAST-OFF FROM BAIKONUR

Support gantries fall away from each side of a Vostok rocket as it blasts its way into the sky. Flames from the exhaust are directed into the pit below, where they escape along tunnels so they cannot threaten the rocket.

strap-on booster

BLAST-OFF FROM BAIKONUR

Support gantries fall away from each side of a Vostok rocket as it blasts its way into the sky. Flames from the exhaust are directed into the pit below, where they escape along tunnels so they cannot threaten the rocket.

RE-ENTRY AND LANDING SEQUENCE

Dropping the Vostok spacecraft out of orbit required turning it around in space so it was facing backwards. Once the retrorockets had fired, the Instrument Module separated and the Descent Module plunged towards Earth. After re-entry, the cosmonaut ejected from the Descent Module and parachuted to the ground separately. The Instrument Module continued in orbit.

strap-on booster

1 spacecraft orientates itself for retroburn m *

3 retroburn and I Instrument Module separation

2 spacecraft goes through re entry

4 hatch jettisons and cosmonaut ejects from Descent Module

5 broking chutc deploys from Descent Module at 4,000m (13,100 ft)

7 main chute deploys at 2,500m (8,200ft)

VOSTOK ROCKET

The 8K72K launch vehicle developed for Vostok used the lower stages of an R-7 with a 3 m (10 ft) third-stage engine similar to that used to boost the early Luna probes.

7 main chute deploys at 2,500m (8,200ft)

6 cosmonaut separates from seat at 4,000m (13,100ft)

6 cosmonaut separates from seat at 4,000m (13,100ft)

8 cosmonaut lands close to the Descent Module

Vostok Instrument Panel

navigational instruments

Cosmonaut Helmet

INSIDE THE SPACESHIP

The interior of the Descent Module was heavily padded. A small window in the front allowed the cosmonaut to see out, and, with the bulky ejector seat in place, there was just enough room for the later Vostok cosmonauts to release their harness and float free.

electronics pack food storage retrorocket

DESCENT AND INSTRUMENT MODULES

The spherical Vostok Descent Module was weighted so that it tilted to re-enter the atmosphere with its heat shield leading the way. The Instrument Module was based on Tikhonravov's Object D satellite (flown as Sputnik 3).

crew 1

length 4.4m (14ft Sin)

maximum oiameter 2.43m (7ft 1 lin)

mass at launch 4,730kg (10,420lb)

mass at lanoing 2,460kg (5,4121b)

engines Nitrous oxide/amine manufacturer Korolev/OKB-1

communications antenna command control antenna

Instrument Module access hatch navigational instruments

VOSTOK CONTROL PANEL

The Vostok controls were in two sections, of which this is the main one. In total, there were just four switches and 35 indicators - plus a hand controller for use only in emergencies.

electrical harness window with manual orientation device

Oescent Module

TV camera directional indicator locator globe ejector seat oxygen and nitrogen storage bottles heat shield

TRIGGER SEQUENCE

Cameras designed to trigger when the missile's engines fired captured the explosion and its horrific aftermath frame by frame. By the end, only charred wreckage of the R-16 remained.

MITROFAN NEDELIN

After a proud militory coreer that sow him fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and command artillery in the Ukraine, all that remoined to identify Marshal Nedelin was his gold star as a Hero of the Soviet Union.

EXPERIENCE

DISASTER ON THE LAUNCH PAD

MITROFAN NEDELIN

After a proud militory coreer that sow him fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War and command artillery in the Ukraine, all that remoined to identify Marshal Nedelin was his gold star as a Hero of the Soviet Union.

THE FIREBALL STRIKES

The explosion laid waste on area 120m (400ft) in diameter. Many died instantly, but others were trapped by the fence around the pod. The fire raged for two hours before it could be brought under control.

The Nedelin catastrophe

The explosion that rocked Baikonur Cosmodrome on 24 October 1960 was the greatest disaster in the history of rocketry, taking the lives of 126 Soviet space and missile personnel.

It took many years for the truth about what became known as the Nedelin catastrophe to emerge - the Soviet state was habitually secretive, especially when it came to such sensitive matters. US spy satellites revealed that something had happened at the cosmodrome, but there was no way of knowing quite what - most analysts believed that, coming shortly after the failed launches of Mars 1 and Mars 2 and towards the end of the 1960 launch window for Mars, the explosion had been a disastrous third attempt to launch a Mars probe. The reality was that the rocket at the heart of the inferno was a prototype Soviet ballistic missile, devised by Sergei Korolev's former deputy and now rival Mikhail Yangel. The disaster had been caused by the impatience of one man and a callous disregard for safety procedures. Once again, the Soviet Union had planned a spectacular, but this time things had gone very badly wrong.

TRIGGER SEQUENCE

Cameras designed to trigger when the missile's engines fired captured the explosion and its horrific aftermath frame by frame. By the end, only charred wreckage of the R-16 remained.

"Above the pad erupted a column of fire. In a daze we watched the flames burst forth again and again until all was silent the bodies were in unique poses - all were without clothes or hair. It was impossible to recognize anybody"

Unnamed worker at a nearby observation point

Nedelin Catastrophe

cameras ... recorded the scene ... The men on the ■ ■ ■

scaffolding dashed about in the fire and smoke; many jumped off and vanished into the flames."

The rocket on the pad was the R-16 ICBM. While Korolev's R-7 had proved itself a formidable launch vehicle, it had been dismissed as a weapon of war, because it could not be stored with its fuel onboard. Yangel's R-16 was supposed to get around that, and it had been given top priority. Marshall Mitrofan Nedelin, head of Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, took personal charge and was eager to launch the rocket before the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, on 7 November. On 21 October, therefore, despite the protestations of many engineers who thought it was not ready for launch, the R-16 was moved to the launch pad at Baikonur's Site 41. By 24 October, all was not going well. Nedelin had already refused

Soviet nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov, Memoirs, 1990

a request the previous day that the fuel should be drained and the rocket removed from the pad. When a further delay was announced, he insisted on going to the pad in person to see what was happening. With countless checks and procedures to run through in so short a space of time, something was more than likely to go wrong - and it did. At 18:45, the routine resetting of a timer in the command bunker caused the rocket's second stage to ignite, firing directly into the fuel-laden first stage below and creating a devastating fireball.

Mikhail Yangel survived only because he was having a cigarette break with some colleagues at the time of the explosion. The incident robbed him of his ambitions to play a key part in the space programme, but the R-16 did make it into space, just over three months later in February 1961.

" ... people ran to the side of the other pad, towards the bunker ... but on this route was a strip of new-laid tar, which immediately melted.

Many got stuck in the hot sticky mass and became victims of the fire."

Andrei Sakharov, 1990

LAUNCH PAD LAYOUT

A present-day mop shows how Site 41 looked at the time of the disaster. The R-16 stood at the centre of the hexagon, and the circle shows where Marshal Nedelin was sitting at the time of the explosion.

"... a fire took place which caused the destruction of the tanks with components of the propellant. The casualties numbered up to 100 or more people including fatalities - several dozen. Chief Marshal Nedelin was present ... now, the search for him is going on."

Mikhail Yangel notifies the Kremlin

LAUNCH PAD LAYOUT

A present-day mop shows how Site 41 looked at the time of the disaster. The R-16 stood at the centre of the hexagon, and the circle shows where Marshal Nedelin was sitting at the time of the explosion.

MEMORIAL TO THE DEAD

This memorial was only erected many years after the disaster but is traditionally visited by officials before every launch.

18 March 1958

Maxime Faget presents a paper on his ballistic launch profile for manned spaceflight to a conference at NACA's Ames laboratories

29 July 1958

Congress approves the creation of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

1 October 1958

NASA officially comes into existence.

7 October 1958

T. Keith Glennan publicly announces NASA's manned spaceflight programme, and the formation of the Space Task Group.

17 December 1958

The manned spaceflight programme is named Project Mercury, from a suggestion by Abe Silverstein.

12 January 1959

McDonnell Corporation is awarded the contract to manufacture the Mercury capsules.

9 April 1959

The seven astronauts selected to take part in Project Mercury are presented to the world.

Mercury takes wing

In late 1958, the newly formed NASA announced its manned space programme to the world. But while Soviet engineers could rely on massive rockets to go straight to orbit, NASA would have to proceed more slowly.

Of course, some US engineers had been weighing the options for manned spaceflight since before the launch of Sputnik. Much of the early design work was done at NACA's Pilotless Aircraft Research Division, where forward-thinkers such as Maxime Faget and Robert Gilruth worked out a mission profile that involved lobbing a conical, wingless spacecraft into orbit, its underside fitted with a protective casing, called ablative shielding, that would burn away as it re-entered the atmosphere. Once it reached terminal velocity in the lower atmosphere, parachutes would bring it to a gentle landing.

When NASA opened for business in October 1958, one of Administrator T. Keith Glennan's first decisions was to establish the Space Task Group, a panel of talented scientists and engineers inherited from the various bodies absorbed by NASA, whose role would be to make manned spaceflight a reality. Faget was among those selected in the group, and Gilruth was appointed as its chairman.

A pivotal meeting came on 15 December 1958, when Glennan met with ABMA engineers, including Wernher von Braun, at Redstone Arsenal. Although the Huntsville unit would not be formally absorbed into NASA until 1960 (when it became the Marshall

Space Flight Center), they were determined to play a pivotal role in the US manned space programme, offering not just help in the design of launch vehicles to put men in Earth orbit, but a complete step-by-step plan to put Americans on the Moon by 1967.

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